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The 5 Stages of Sizing Up Another Parent Before a Play Date

Closeup portrait of a smiling young african woman talking on mobile phone outdoors
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Once your kids hit school age, it’s stranger danger time. But I’m not talking about a skeevy guy in a white van with candy and puppies. I’m talking about the playdates, sleepovers, and hangouts hosted by parents you’ve never even laid eyes on.

These parents are undoubtedly very nice people. They’re bound to have excellent ethics and good common sense. They are probably planning age-appropriate and wholesome activities for your kid to partake in. Who, by the way, will have a wonderful time while you spend a few hours in relative peace doing whatever you used to do when you had time to do it.

So what’s the problem?

Grrr … Mama Bear no likey! That’s the problem.

It raises my hackles whenever my child comes home and says, “I’m invited to [insert name of kid I’ve never heard in my entire life]’s house! Can I go?” When this happens, I immediately launch into yellow alert and ask my kid 100 questions. Maybe 200. Once we get the particulars sorted (who, what, when, where, why, and how) we proceed to The Call.

The Call is a crucial step in the process. When the kids are little, The Call is imperative to A.) find out whether your child is actually invited to the house of “Emma B, the one with the trampoline I’ve never ever been on,” and B.) agree on basic logistics like times and places and what protective gear will be needed.

As kids get older, The Call becomes more about thwarting cockamamie schemes.

The Call is a crucial source of information gathering, but the key is to get what you need to know without actually asking.
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In the olden days, we pretended The Call was to ask for directions. (Let’s pause for a moment to remember directions, shall we? Sigh.) Anyway, we would pretend to be asking for directions and use our Spidey Sense to judge whether the person on the other end of the line seemed responsible enough to trust with our kids for a few hours. Now that you have Google and GPS, you’ll need some other justification for The Call, such as introducing yourself or offering to bring something. No matter how polite you are — and you can trust me on this because I am very, very polite — some parents of older kids will take great offense at receiving The Call. Do not be deterred.

The Call is a crucial source of information gathering, but the key is to get what you need to know without actually asking. (Lest you seem like a helicopter parent, which is suddenly a bad thing. Thanks a lot, Free-Rangers! Now what do I do with all this surveillance gear?)

But back to The Call: The amazing thing about it is that both you and the other parent know exactly what you are asking even though you’re not actually asking and answering any of it. Here’s how it goes. 

Stage 1: Establish contact.

Mama Bear: “Hello. Is this Mrs. Trampoline?”

Translation: You are this child’s mother, aren’t you. And who else lives at this house anyway?

Mrs. Trampoline: “Yes. How can I help you?”  

Translation: Are you about to try to sell me something, or are you some kind of freak parent, because I might prefer the sales call.

Stage 2: Do the thing where you pretend you are eternally grateful that said play date is happening.

MB: “I’m Mama Bear. Thank you so much for inviting my son Baby Bear over on Wednesday.”

Translation: Is my kid really invited on Wednesday, or are these kids planning to hang out at the Greyhound station and smoke cigarettes all afternoon?

MT: “Oh, it’s our pleasure. Little Tramp talks about Baby Bear all the time. We’re very excited to have him over.”

Translation: What’s your problem, lady? Has your kid never been on a playdate before?

Stage 3: Suss out what exactly is happening. Be subtle.

MB: “Baby Bear is so excited, too. Should he bring anything in particular?”

Translation: Are you going to feed my child? Are you taking him somewhere that requires a change of clothes? OH PLEASE, NOT THE POOL! Will he need a helmet for extreme sports? Or worse, do you not even use helmets in Trampolineville? Does he need money, and if so what on Earth for? Will there be gambling?!

MT: “Oh, no. Don’t worry about a thing. We’ve got everything here.”

Translation: Oh, this is going to be fun. I’m not telling you a thing.

Stage 4: Start grilling about the particulars — in a not-so-obvious way.

MB: “Do you have enough help? I’d be happy to stay if you like.”

Translation: You’re not getting me off the phone that easily. That’s right. We’re doing this. How many kids are you having? How many adults will be there? Are you going to watch them, or just sit out on the deck and stare at your phone while they’re down in the basement doing who-knows-what?

MT: “Oh, that’s so nice of you.”

Translation: Freak. There’s no way I’m spending three hours with you. But my daughter is home on break from college and my husband gets back around 5, so he’ll bring pizza. Are you happy now? Have I given you enough information to shut you up? Your kid may never come home. He’s going to love being part of a normal family for a change.

MB: “That sounds like so much fun!”

Translation: I wasn’t really asking for all that. Okay fine, I was — but I’m kind of sorry about it now.

MB: What time are you eating and when should I pick him up?

Translation: There is not an ice cube’s chance in you-know-where this is turning into a sleepover.

MT: “Let’s say 8?”

Translation: I wish it were 8 on Wednesday right now so I would be done with you already.

Stage 5: Shut it down — you’ve done all you could do here.

MB: “Great. I’ll see you after school on Wednesday.”

Translation: I need to get a good look at you and we haven’t discussed guns, alcohol, and drugs in the home.

MT: “Great!” Click.

Translation: Not if I see you first.

So there you have it, folks — The Call, in all its revealing glory. Oh, and one last tip: Make sure your kid is in the room when you make The Call. I’d say this helps avoid miscommunication and deters funny business, but that would be a lie.

I just like watching them squirm.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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